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The Best (and Worst) Predictors of On-the-Job Performance

Posted by Eric Friedman

Hiring predictors are difficult to get right, as any HR recruitment professional can tell you. In fact, the vast majority of today’s organizations struggle to accurately identify the right person for the job. According to a recent research brief from Brandon Hall Group, 95% of organizations admit to making bad hires every year.

A meta-analysis published in Psychological Bulletin concluded that a typical employment interview leads to the right hire only 57% of the time. In other words, it’s only slightly more effective than flipping a coin.

While there are no hiring predictors that offer a 100% success rate, some are definitely better than others. Here, we take a look at three of the worst interview predictors, as well as three of the very best.

WORST HIRING PREDICTORS

  • First impressions. A survey of 2,000 interviewers revealed that one in three made a hiring decision within the first 90 seconds of meeting someone. However, first impressions are unlikely to yield great results, since they’re based on superficial qualities such as the four “A’s”—attractiveness, affability, articulateness, and assertiveness. None of these criteria predict job success, but they can dazzle an interviewer, causing them to ignore red flags and rate the interviewee’s aptitude and abilities much higher than they should.
  • Tricky questions. For interviewers and interviewees alike, interviews can feel stale and impersonal. This may explain the fad for asking unexpected questions, such as “What is the first thing you’d do during a zombie attack?” or “How many kittens would fit inside a telephone booth?” It’s fun, but there is no evidence that a candidate’s ability to answer these types of questions correlates to their performance. Most employers—including Google, which was famous for interview brain-teasers—have stopped using them for this very reason.
  • School grades. If you went to college, you probably sweated over your grades and struggled to boost them as high as you could. Unfortunately, school performance is a poor hiring predictor. Based on data collected from more than 500 independent studies, it’s clear that a person’s GPA trails far behind other factors in predicting their on-the-job performance. Choosing a candidate based on their GPA increases the likelihood of hiring a strong performer by only 4% over random selection.

BEST HIRING PREDICTORS

  • Past behavior. While people improve and grow throughout their careers, their past behavior is still one of the best indicators of their future behavior. For example, anyone can say they’re team-oriented, but only true team players will have real-world examples to support the claim. That’s why behavioral questions tend to be excellent interview predictors. These are questions that begin with “Can you tell me about a time when you… “ According to hiring expert Lou Adler, it’s particularly important to look for past behaviors that indicate that the candidate has a history of being assigned to (or volunteering for) “stretch” assignments that take them outside of their comfort zone or previous experience. This indicates that they actively seek—and can successfully tackle—increasingly challenging roles.
  • Conscientiousness. Most employers would agree that they prefer employees who are organized, act responsibly, meet deadlines, and plan ahead. These behaviors are all linked to a single trait: conscientiousness. Research suggests that conscientiousness is the only major personality trait that consistently predicts success on the job. It doesn’t seem to matter which job, either; conscientious candidates are likely to perform well across a wide variety of roles. To test a candidate’s conscientiousness, you can ask them to complete a “Big Five” personality test or ask behavioral questions that examine how conscientiously they behaved in previous roles.
  • Cognitive ability. Cognitive ability defines how well a person can perform a wide range of mental processes, such as solving problems, reading, using numbers, understanding spatial relations, remembering things, organizing, and planning. There is growing evidence—including the 1998 meta-analysis cited above that examined 85 years of research—that cognitive ability correlates highly with successful on-the-job performance for both entry-level and more senior employees. A test of a candidate’s general mental abilities, together with a structured interview, is one of the best ways to identify the right person for the job.

Identifying good candidates is a big challenge, and most employers recognize that they need to do a better job. By filtering out the worst hiring predictors and focusing on the best, you can improve those “flip-a-coin” odds and build a more effective and reliable hiring process.

What have you found to be the best hiring predictors in your field? Please share your thoughts here.

 

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About Eric Friedman

Author

Eric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill Corporation, a leading provider of Web-based skills testing for pre-employment and training. With academic degrees in Psychology and Business, and experience with both mature and expansion-stage company growth, Eric has focused on how best to hire and motivate team members to be the best they can be for their companies.

3 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Melissa February, 15, 2017

    Thank you for the good read. Behavioral questions are indeed the best predictors. If my candidate is really detailed in his/her answer I know he/she is not inventing and that’s a good sign to hire him.

  • Jamie February, 15, 2017

    Hello, I am a restaurant HR Manager. My questions are mostly behavioral and cognitive. It is really important for me to know what the server will say in a situation when the client refuses the food, makes a complaint or asks for a refund.

  • Zach February, 15, 2017

    I really liked the part of the article when you say that school grades are not relevant. Unfortunately, I had many candidates with an excellent school performance, but so little experience. I don’t want to cut them off, but give them a chance. That’s when I ask behavioral hypothetical questions. If they are creative enough and give me a plausible answer, I give them a chance. However, school grades are indeed the least important indicator in today’s marketplace.

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